Film Review: The Neon Demon

In association with the Grosvenor


Nicolas Winding Refn is an experimental director who takes risks in his creative choices.  As admirable as that is, it can become pretentious as he sometimes seems more fixated on creating art than entertainment. The Neon Demon walks this tightrope too and whether you love or hate it there’s no denying that Refn has made his most fucked up film to date.

The Neon Demon sees Elle Fanning as aspiring fashion model Jesse. Her youth and natural beauty means she rises to stardom quickly, much to the jealously of other hardworking models. And from there… let’s just say things get dark.

Refn has a lot going on here and from a technical viewpoint this film is outstanding. The cinematography is stellar with lots of atmospheric stills against mostly vacuous backdrops.  The use of colours is also amazing with bright white, gold or blue often contrasting with dark red and black. They encompass many gorgeous visual metaphors that emphasise the film’s message. Even the title is a metaphor in itself. It effectively shows how one’s obsession with beauty or vanity can turn them into monsters. Accompany this with an exquisitely eerie soundtrack by Cliff Martinez and you get one of 2016’s best looking films.

However, this is definitely a case of style over substance. While the acting is collectively good the characters are mostly bland outside of wanting to be beautiful. The male characters especially are so forgettable that even the film drops their subplots halfway through. The story is purely a vehicle to convey the message and it becomes more grotesque over time.  The third act will be everyone’s deciding point on whether they find this film riveting or disgusting. It’s designed to be uncomfortable and some of it does work, but when Refn tries to fetishise these depraving acts it can become more unpleasant than merely shocking.

If nothing else though, The Neon Demon is an intriguing spectacle. Love it or hate it, the film has staying power.  It can be hard to watch at times but when you consider what it’s trying to say and the stylish way it’s saying it, it’s hard not to be fascinated for better or worse. It’s more thought provoking than it is entertaining but for what it was worth Refn has made an enthralling film; one that you will be enriched or appalled by.

[Calum Cooper]

Image – Film School Rejects

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